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‘Hullo, Vic, old girl!’: Remarkable story of Angus war horse uncovered after more than a century

Captain Alexander Wallace with his distinctive chestnut and white mare, Vic, and another war horse. Supplied by Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre.
Captain Alexander Wallace with his distinctive chestnut and white mare, Vic, and another war horse. Supplied by Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre.

It is a remarkable story, stretching from the arable calm of the Angus coast to the brutal desolation of the Somme, and home again.

And for the first time, the inspiring tale of a chestnut mare and the decorated Army officer who shared four years on the battlefields of France and Flanders with her has been fully revealed as the true-life background to Angus’s own War Horse.

Little known for more than a century, the story of Captain Alexander Wallace MC and the distinctive mount, Vic, is now the centrepiece of a new exhibition at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre (MASHC).

Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre Stuart Archibald admires Captain Wallace’s WWI tunic. Pic: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media

Bridging the generations, it has also brought the medals and tunic of the Angus-born soldier back home after relatives in the United States generously gifted the wartime memorabilia to the museum.

They illustrate the fascinating bond which surpasses even that shared through the Steven Spielberg blockbuster based around Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the connection between man and mount during World War One.

MASHC husband and wife volunteers Michael and Sian Brewis uncovered the history of Captain Wallace and Vic in lockdown research for the centre’s Animals at War exhibition.

A brief entry in Angus archives had hinted at the prospect of an Angus war horse, but the couple were astonished by the story they unearthed.

Captain Wallace was the son of an Arbroath vet, who personally selected the mare to go to France with his Royal Field Artillery officer son.

MAHSC volunteer researcher Sian Brewis watches piper Mark Lumgair at the event. Pic: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media

Vic was one of 131 war horses to serve with the Forfarshire battery of the RFA – but the only equine to survive the conflict.

Together, the pair saw action in battles including the Somme and Passchendaele.

Captain Alexander Wallace and Vic at Mouvaux in France. Supplied by Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre.

Captain Wallace’s gallantry saw him honoured with the Military Cross in the 1919 New Year Honours list.

And his devotion to the trusty mare saw him instruct his brother buy the animal on her return from war.

The deal was duly struck and, in a truly astonishing moment of fate, Vic was being led along the King’s Cross station platform for her return to Scotland at exactly the same time Captain Wallace was returning from leave.

The pair were re-united for the Captain’s fond farewell to his companion, who he had been desperate to secure so she could send her back to the fields of Rossie between Arbroath and Montrose.

Vic went on to become a show-winner, living out her days in post-war rural tranquillity on the Angus coast.

US relatives join exhibition ceremony

Captain Wallace emigrated to America soon after the war, and descendants including his Massachusetts-based grandson, John, joined the MAHSC ceremony for the unveiling of the new display.

Mr Wallace said: “I am honoured to be virtually among you, and pleased and grateful for the work of the dedicated volunteers in making this story so visible.

“We often looked at pictures of my grandfather and Vic. Sandy was a quiet man with a twinkle in his eye.

“When a horse show came to town, he would always gather up the grandchildren and take them to the show.

“This exhibition is special to me and now we can show it to the world,” he said.

Lt. Col. Katy Badham-Thornehill, MAHSC chairman Stuart Archibald and War Horse Memorial Fund ambassador Lesley McKenzie speak to the descendants of Captain Wallace via the internet from America.

Sian said the incredible story of Vic and Captain Wallace – who died in 1977 when he was in his 80s – was one waiting to be told after more than a century.

“It is amazing that we have our own war horse here in Angus – I hoped we might have been able to uncover one, but never imagined it would be such an amazing story.

“When we made contact with the family they were so keen to share the story of their grandfather with us.

“This is a story of a man’s incredible bond with his horse.

“But is it also a story of a father doing the best for his son, who was going off to war and he picked for him the best horse that he could.

“And today, it is a story of the Wallace family doing the best by their grandfather with their generosity in returning his tunic and medals so we can share the story of Captain Alexander Wallace and Vic.

The decorated officer’s First World War tunic is the centrepiece of the Animals at War exhibition. Pic: Mhairi Edwards/DCT Media

“Captain Wallace went to America, but never forgot his old girl and kept in touch with the family who owned her.

“I believe fate has brought us to this story and we are so proud to be able to tell it.”

Guests at the exhibition unveiling included Lieutenant Colonel Katy Badham-Thornhill REME and Aberdeen’s Lesley McKenzie, an ambassador of  the War Horse Memorial who became aware of the story by pure coincidence after being asked to frame Captain Wallace’s medals.

Among others featured in the Animals at War display are Montrose’s Norwegian sea dog, Bamse; Dundee’s hero World War Two pigeon, Winkie and the Airedales of Angus which are honoured in a monument at Easthaven.

Newspaper report

On May 13 1919, the Dundee Courier told the story of Vic and Captain Wallace being re-united after the four years they shared on the battlefields of France and Flanders.

“Hullo, Vic, old girl!” the paper reported as the hero officer’s greeting to the chestnut mare.

Readers heard how the “battle experiences of the officer and his noble mount would sent a thrill of pride through every Forfarshire heart.”

Even after being wounded and sent to hospital, Captain Wallace returned to another battery where “good fortune one day brought him again in touch with his favourite charger,” the paper reported.

Captain Alexander Wallace. Supplied by Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre.

“At the close of hostilities officers and men had regretfully to part with their favourite horses, and Vic was one of those destined to be sent home to England without her master.

“Officers receive official notification as to the date and place at which any such horse is to be sold in order that they may have an opportunity of acquiring old friends.

“In this way Captain Wallace learned in France that his charger was to be up for sale at Aldridges on Saturday last,” the article continued.

A Good Home

“Determined that she should have a good home for the remainder of her days, the Captain wired to his brother, Lieut. Wallace at present stationed in London, and asked him to do his utmost to purchase the mare.

“There was considerable competition, and as the price rose Vic’s fate hung in jeopardy. At 44 guineas there was a pause, but Lieut. Wallace, determined that his brother should not suffer disappointment, sent the price up another guinea, and joyfully marched off with the mare.

“Arrangements were made at King’s Cross for her dispatch to Arbroath, and it was when Vic made her appearance on King’s Cross to be entrained that she was sighted by her overjoyed master.

“By a remarkable coincidence Captain Wallace was returning from France on short leave, and it was not until his favourite mare was being led along the station platform that he learned of his good fortune at the sale ring.

“At the greeting ‘Hullo, Vic, old girl!’ the mare pricked up her ears and seemed as delighted at meeting her old friend as he was at securing his faithful and making sure that she would have a good home for the rest of her days.”

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